A tournament chairman said Wednesday that two prominent players from Cuba's junior baseball team may have defected in Edmonton.
Ron Hayter said 2008 IBAF World Junior AAA starting pitcher Noel Arguelles and infielder Jose Iglesias were last seen Sunday night at their team meal at the University of Alberta's Lister Hall.
"Rumors were swirling around a couple of days ago. There were denials everywhere. Both players ate the pre-game meal, then went back to their rooms at the university and got dressed to go on the bus, and they didn't get on the bus," said Hayter.
Hayter there's also talk that two more players might have defected.
"Unfortunately we can't really get involved in these problems and it's up to the team's managers," said Hayter. "The international body is discouraged by all of this. We, as an organizing committee, don't want it to happen because it weakens their team."
Defection has become familiar territory for Cuba, which has faced the prospect of desertion at many international tournaments.
Edmonton has hosted seven tournaments similar to this over the past 27 years but it wasn't until the 2000 tournament that any defections were reported.
That year three Cubans defected, most notably Yuniesky Betancourt, who now plays shortstop for the Seattle Mariners.
"In tournaments like this, Cuba's always had trouble with defections," said Hayter.
"When we first hosted a tournament like this in 1981, they would bring 20 players. They ended up bringing 12 other people, who were all called trainers. That's a lot of trainers for 20 players, eh?" said Hayter.
Arguelles pitched the tournament opener in a 4-3 loss to Puerto Rico. The hard throwing right-hander gave up just two hits through seven innings.
Iglesias was Cuba's starting shortstop. He was enjoying a good start to the tournament. Through two games, he was hitting .571, had four hits, one RBI and scored three runs.
Cuba got off to a great start in the 2008 tournament. They are 3-1 and have positioned themselves into medal contention. But Arguelles and Iglesias will leave a big hole in the Cuban lineup. Arguelles was the ace of their pitching staff, while Iglesias was one of their hottest hitters.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.